Photo: Jay Sentrosi.
'ChopLife Soundsystem' Is Mr Eazi & DJ Edu’s Expression of Freedom
Chop Life, Vol. 1: Mzansi Chronicles, a wholesome ode to Amapiano, showcases the fun that is had at the new afrodance group's performances and parties.
Mr Eazi loves being a cultural interloper. It’s been an integral part of his career, even up to the point of unintentionally spurring controversy. “Ghana’s influence on present day “Naija Sound” cannot be over emphasized,” the Nigerian-born singer infamously wrote in a since-deleted tweet back in early 2017, mere days before the release of his second mixtape, Life is Eazi, Vol. 1 – Accra to Lagos.
There was no malice in his tweet nor was his assertion farfetched, but he drew heavy criticisms from an arrogant Nigerian audience hell-bent on narrative supremacy over nuance. Banku Music, the self-styled genre Mr Eazi pioneered as he broke into the Nigerian and Ghanaian mainstreams, is heavily influenced by Ghanaian Highlife music. That sound quickly went on to become greatly influential, fostering the tempo change that has characterized Afrobeats since the mid-2010s.
Since then, Mr Eazi has shifted gears several times, experimenting with urban UK music styles on Life is Eazi, Vol. 2 – Lagos to London, shining on dancehall cuts with Popcaan and Nicki Minaj, and collaborating with Urbano superstars J Balvin and Bad Bunny. “Anytime I’m doing something new I can say, as much as I’m driven by freedom, I’m also driven by boredom,” the singer candidly tells OkayAfrica. “As a person, I like to travel. I can literally get on a plane and go to Kazakhstan for the slightest reason. Being driven by freedom, I’ve not liked to be boxed-in like, ‘Oh, he’s a Nigerian artist or a Ghanaian artist or an Afrobeats-R&B artist.’”
In addition to the thrill-seeking, there’s an innate understanding of the current global pop landscape, where music travels at lightning speed and artists can pick influences across countries and continents. For Mr Eazi, making music that feels inspired is the ultimate success, even if it means traveling to the source of the influencing sound. “I just like to be free and it’s that freedom that lends itself to the music because it’s really a reflection of who I am, and that’s why it’s always a journey,” he says. “[I’ve done] Accra to Lagos, Lagos to London and now I’m on ChopLife.”
Mr Eazi and DJ Edu are Choplife Soundsystem.Photo: Jay Sentrosi.
The formation of ChopLife Soundsystem
Announced earlier this year, Mr Eazi’s latest adventure is ChopLife Soundsystem, a group act headlined alongside Kenyan-born, UK-based DJ Edu. A revered selector and tastemaker, DJ Edu has been a proud champion of African music in the UK for over 15 years, playing an invaluable role in the crossover of songs and artists from across the continent, particularly through his long standing show on BBC Radio 1Xtra, Destination Africa. In their joint Afrodance outfit, Edu serves as the resident DJ while Mr Eazi, in addition to being the primary vocalist on ChopLife Soundsystem recordings, will also serve as the MC during performances and curated parties.
Having connected in 2016, the pair became good friends through lengthy conversations. “We developed our relationship coming from wanting to be free,” DJ Edu says. “I didn’t want to be tied down and be told what to play, and him being able to be an artist to do whatever he likes. That’s the common ground that we found ourselves and it evolved to us throwing parties together, touring together and it led to ChopLife, because when I’m with him it’s easy, we never stress but we get things done.”
ChopLife Soundsystem naturally evolved as an extension of the parties and performances Mr Eazi and DJ Edu have curated over the last few years. In one instance, they went to Barcelona to play a set that should’ve lasted just 15 minutes, but they went on for hours till the club’s owner begged them to stop due to a shortage of drinks. “This was never a conversation, it was action because we were [already] doing parties. It was just to package and let it fly,” DJ Edu remarks.
At last year’s Detty Rave, the annual December concert Mr Eazi headlines in Ghana, the event was carried by DJs, with ChopLife Soundsystem having something of an informal coming out party months before its official arrival. Similar to Detty Rave, the group is rooted in Mr Eazi’s origins as a party promoter while schooling at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), which inevitably paved the way for his career as a successful artist.
On May 28th, ChopLife Soundsystem released its debut project, Chop Life, Vol. 1: Mzansi Chronicles. Informed by Amapiano, the 14-song LP was created during a 30-day stay in Cape Town. That on-the-ground approach is evident in its curation, as Mzansi Chronicles comes across as a wholesome ode to the ubiquitous sound that originated and continues to evolve from South Africa’s townships and urban centers. Tapping a dance genre that’s widely synonymous with having a fun time, Mr Eazi loosens up and does more rapping than singing, reminiscent of his several features on Riton and Kah-Lo’s dance project, Foreign Ororo. Alongside DJ Edu’s guiding ear, ChopLife Soundsystem deliver a breezy body of work that’s further buoyed by the authenticity of its collaborations.
On the lead single, “Wena,” Ami Faku sings in isiXhosa over soulful production. Atop the speaker-bursting bass of “Big Boy,” 2woshort and Stompiiey are in typically blistering form with their trademark rapid-fire flows, turning in similarly standout moments on the irreverent “No Condom.” The inventive producer duo of Mellow & Sleazy turn in funky, Bacardi-indented arrangements on “Inside” and closer “Collect,” while rapper Focalistic is in chest-beating form on “By Force.”Mzansi Chronicles is packed with delightful features, with Mr Eazi finding the balance between being the center of attraction and ceding space as the hovering host/MC.
“I would like to pretend and say there was some super analytical process,” Mr Eazi says of finding the project’s collaborators. “We arrived at most of the collaborations by me being in the club and hearing a song play, shazaming and finding the artists at a specific timestamp. Or hearing a song and thinking, ‘Jeez, what beat is that?’ and finding the producer. We really just vibed and worked with people we genuinely wanted to work with.”
Mozambique plays a part
Interestingly, Mzansi Chronicles is largely produced by DJ Tarico. The Mozambican producer came into continental popularity with the Burna Boy-assisted “Yaba Buluku (Remix),” a thundering banger that introduced listeners to his brand of ‘Piano-indebted production. Prior to that, DJ Tarico released two installments in his Moz Piano series in 2020, with the second volume particularly showing his understanding of Amapiano’s range while underscoring his affinity for booming percussion progressions. On the new ChopLife Soundsystem project, Tarico’s work spans emotive cuts (“Die For You”), playful jams (“Werser”), and wall-rattling bangers (“Big Boy”).
In what he describes as a “beautiful accident,” Mr Eazi recalls DJ Tarico making a beat around a random verse, which would eventually become the late 2022 hit song “Patek.” The excitement and ensuing success of the single would derail the singer’s plan to release a new solo album, eventually setting the tone for ChopLife Soundsystem. DJ Edu describes it as “the perfect storm,” stating that the formation of the Afrodance group happened at a time when Mr Eazi was playing around with the idea of not performing under his moniker.
To both friends, the group represents freedom and Chop Life, Vol. 1: Mzansi Chronicles is their testament to creating without the restraint of past reputations. There are ambiguous plans to make more projects in cities across Africa and the world, and the music will be in service of the tours and parties ChopLife Soundystem will perform at. “It’s music that is not for the sake of music itself but for the ecosystem around it,” Mr Eazi says. “I’m going to go on tour as an MC with DJ Edu, we’re just having fun doing this and everybody that comes in touch with the music and the parties or Detty Rave will feel that energy.”
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